Orders of the Day — Adjournment (Spring)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:03 pm on 25th May 1982.

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Photo of David Winnick David Winnick , Walsall North 9:03 pm, 25th May 1982

I endorse all the remarks made by my hon. Friends the Members for Derby, North (Mr. Whitehead), Swindon (Mr. Stoddart), West Bromwich, East (Mr. Snape) and Bishop Auckland (Mr. Foster) about the onslaught on the railway industry. My hon. Friends spoke eloquently of the need to defend their constituencies and the industry and they have the full support of the entire Parliamentary Labour Party.

It is many years since the House went into recess in a situation such as today's, in which we are at war with another country. There was unanimous agreement in the House in totally condemning the Argentine junta's invasion of the Falkland Islands. Before the House goes into recess, however, the need for a negotiated settlement must be understood. I understand the political pressures that led the junta to take its action. The week before the invasion, there was a massive demonstration in the Argentine capital, and it was to relieve itself from that pressure that the junta acted as it did.

The need to seek a negotiated settlement is very important and should be given great priority by the House and by the Government. I was concerned at what I considered to be the negative attitude shown by the Prime Minister at Question Time today. When pressed by my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition about negotiations, the United Nations and so on, the right hon. Lady fell back on the need for military victory. As my right hon. Friend mentioned, the speech which the Foreign Secretary made on Thursday was somewhat different from the remarks we heard from the Prime Minister today.

I hope that the Leader of the House will listen to this quote from what the Foreign Secretary said only last Thursday: I was coming on to the future of negotiations, which was one of the important points taken up by the right hon. Member for Cardiff South-East as well. There is no question of the Government having turned their back on the idea of a negotiated settlement. The diplomatic option and effort continues as vigorously as before. In the same speech the Foreign Secretary also said: I agree entirely with what the right hon. Member for Leeds, East (Mr. Healey) said about military and diplomatic pressures going together. Both are required. Neither would be effective without the other. They are part of a comprehensive whole."—[Official Report, 20 May 1982; Vol. 24, c. 552.] We know about the military pressures and the escalation which has occurred since the debate last Thursday. What we do not know about are the diplomatic efforts and what efforts have been made by the British Government to find a negotiated settlement to the crisis.

No one, certainly not myself, denies that the issue is complex. I have said previously in a debate on the Falkland Islands that I do not consider this to be another Suez because at the time of Suez it was clear who the aggressor was. If I believed it was another Suez, I would be virtually condoning what the junta did. That does not alter the fact that a military solution will not be a proper lasting solution—for reasons which must be obvious to everyone in the House. Therefore, I hope that the Government will not close the door on negotiations or on trying to find an interim arrangement.

There has been much talk in the House and in the media generally about the possibility of United Nations administration or trusteeship. That type of solution may be more acceptable in the long run than Britain simply repossessing the Falkland Islands. If we repossess the islands, what will we do afterwards? Will we keep a huge force there, 8,000 miles away from the United Kingdom? Will we have to keep such a force there in case the ruling authorities in Argentina decide to have another go? There must be recognition of all the complex problems involved, which must mean a need to get around the negotiating table. Of course it goes without saying that that applies to the junta as well as to the British Government.

I am glad that the Leader of the House accepted at the outset the amendment moved by my right hon. Friend the Member for Deptford (Mr. Silkin). It would be impossible to believe that if there was a further major escalation of the conflict with major casualties the House would not be called back. I hope that pressures from Members of Parliament and the public generally will ensure that we will be brought back.

I have contempt for those who believe that what is happening in the South Atlantic can be a springboard for some electoral success. It would be a disgrace if the British and Argentines who have lost their lives and those who have been injured were used as an excuse for a snap election in which the Tory Party could do well on the basis of what has happened over the Falkland crisis.

I hope that, like me, most Conservative Members will view with contempt those people who are willing to use people's lives, let alone British lives, lost in military action purely and simply to advance their party's narrow interests. Might I add here that the inquiry has yet to take place about the events which led to the invasion in the first place, and presumably the then Foreign Secretary did not resign for the fun of it.

I turn now to some local matters. Although there has been some decrease in unemployment according to the figures which came out today, the underlying number of unemployed adults is still increasing. What is particularly worrying for hon. Members like me who represent West Midlands constituencies is the continued substantial increase in unemployment in the region during the past three years.

On 22 April I asked a question about the percentage increase in unemployment between May 1979 and the current time in each of the travel-to-work areas of the West Midlands."—[Official Report, 22 April 1982; Vol.22, c. 130.] In my own travel-to-work area of Walsall, the increase in unemployment over the past three years was 240 per cent. In Dudley and Sandwell, and, also of course, in the black country, the figure was 271 per cent. In Birmingham, it was 182 per cent. Clearly, the increase in unemployment in the West Midlands has been far greater than in most other parts of the country, and certainly nationally.

I have here an answer to another question that I asked on 8 April. These answers will be of particular interest to the Leader of the House, for obvious reasons. I asked for the percentage increases for the West Midlands and the Walsall travel-to-work area. I have already mentioned the increase of 241 per cent. in three years in the Walsall travel-to-work area. For the West Midlands as a whole the figure was 193 per cent. There are also continuing large-scale redundancies, closures, and the rest. We therefore believe that measures are urgently needed to reverse the tide of mass unemployment so that people may get back to work, and to stop adults rotting their lives away in the dole queues, as well as young people leaving school.

So far, there has been no announcement from the Government that they intend to pursue policies which will reverse the tide of mass unemployment. At the moment, the dominant issue is the Falklands. That is natural, because lives are involved and we do not know how many more casualties there will be. However, when the Falkland crisis is over, we shall still be faced with the crisis of mass unemployment and the fact that millions of people in this country are denied the opportunity to earn their living.

I am also worried because those who have been made unemployed are to be penalised in a particularly vindictive manner. We had a debate about the fact that unemployed people are to be taxed. We know, too, that although taxation will begin in the current year, the 5 per cent. which was taken from them in 1980 in lieu of taxation will not be restored. I have a reply here from a Treasury Minister to a question in which I asked how many unemployed will not pay income tax because their income is too low. The reply was 1¼ million. So out of those who will not be liable to income tax—the registered unemployed—1¼ million will not pay any income tax at all because their total income is too low.

Forty per cent. of the unemployed are affected in that way, yet those people who will not pay income tax are denied the 5 per cent. in benefit. The 60 per cent. of unemployed people who will be liable to tax will be subject to double taxation. They will pay income tax as well as the 5 per cent. deduction that was introduced in lieu of taxation about 2 years ago.

I mention that matter because it seems to me that the House should have special concern for those people most at risk in our community. It is all very well for the Government to say that unemployment is unfortunate but inevitable because of economic trends and what is happening abroad. That is certainly not an argument that my right hon. and hon. Friends and I would accept.

What possible justification can there be, however, for the measures that I have been describing being taken against the unemployed? People who, through no fault of their own, find themselves without work and on the dole queue are penalised by having less money than they would otherwise have. When we talk about going into recess, everyone should bear in mind how difficult things are for those of our constituents who are out of work and to whom every single penny counts. It is not just the unemployed who suffer: it is their wives and children. Yet the Government have taken action which is amongst the most vindictive that they have taken in the past three years.

My hon. Friend the Member for Fife, Central (Mr. Hamilton) was right in what he said about the nurses. He also referred to the wealthier sections of the community which have done so well. It is about time the Government took some action for the poorer sections of the community and certainly for the unemployed. The plight of those people who have been the victims of Government policy should be brought to the notice of the House. I hope that even at this late hour the 5 per cent. that was stolen from the unemployed will be restored to their benefit.